A new melanoma drug that tricks the body into destroying cancer cells is keeping patients alive for years longer than expected, with some researchers calling the breakthrough in immunotherapy a “penicillin moment” in cancer treatments.
Kathy Gardiner and her fiancé, Anthony Pukallas, are due to get married in a fortnight.
The wedding did not seem likely just over a year ago when Kathy was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
CT scans showed five major tumours on her lungs.
“You go through a lot of emotions when you’re told that you have a terminal diagnosis,” Ms Gardiner told 7.30.
“You first progress with disbelief and then you go through trying to work out why this has happened to you, and eventually it’s the anger, and at that point you have to reach a level of acceptance.’
But now Ms Gardiner has been given a new chance at life.
When she was diagnosed, she was given an new immunotherapy drug called Pembrolizumab as part of the drug company’s compassionate access scheme.
After less than a year on Pembrolizumab, there is only one tumour visible on Ms Gardiner’s lungs.
Each new scan shows that the tumours have shrunk.
“The opportunity to have life extension is one of the best gifts that could be granted, Ms Gardiner said.
Pembrolizumab is one of a new class of melanoma drugs which is keeping some patients alive for years longer than previously expected.
The category of immunotherapy called anti-PD1 tricks the body’s immune system into destroying cancer cells.
And there is hope the drugs could be effective against other cancers.
For the first time, the national drugs regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, approved an anti-PD1 drug for use against melanoma.
Pembrolizumab is hugely expensive – costing patients between $10,000 and $15,000 a month – but oncologists expect that it will be fast-tracked for subsidy under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
The drug, also known by the trade name Keytruda, was also the subject of a study published on Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study said it was far more effective than existing treatments for advanced melanoma.
Read more: Melanoma drug keeping patients alive, gives researchers hope of ‘penicillin moment’ in cancer treatment